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Endurance Exercise and Weight Management

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Many people believe they can start an endurance program e.g training for a half marathon, marathon, triathlon, and watch the pounds melt away. Unfortunately this causes frustration and leads to lack of follow through for what could be a healthy, fitness regimen. Endurance training and weight loss should be two separate goals. If an athlete embarks on a plan to increase endurance for a goal event trying to create a calorie deficit which is required for weight loss, may affect the success of the plan. A few pounds will most likely be lost especially if the person is new to endurance training but significant weight loss is a goal with only failure as the outcome.

To lose body fat, one must create a calorie deficit and this is done by eating fewer calories and/or exercising to burn more calories throughout the day. The challenge is when we add exercise and begin burning more calories the body wants to compensate and as a result we feel hungry. If our diet is restricted at this point, we will suffer from food cravings. A no win situation.

High intensity exercise requires mostly carbohydrates which will quickly enter the bloodstream and help fatigued muscles continue working. There are two components which fuel endurance over the long run: carbohydrates and fat. Carbohydrates are easy for the body to access and use. The draw back is that the human body can only store a limited number of carbohydrates over a specific period of time. Fats take longer to process but are present in even the thinnest of athletes. Through long term endurance training, the athlete teaches the body to use fat more efficiently for endurance events. When working out at an easier intensity e.g. long slow run, the body will burn a higher percentage of fat. If working out at a high intensity, e.g. short 1 mile sprints, the body will look for immediate fuel by way of carbohydrates. Depending on age, heart rate between the rates of 105 and 134 beats per minute, represent the fat burning zone. Working out near the top of that zone is best to burn more calories over all. Source: Dan Carey, PhD at University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

The two goals need to be separated. Either exercise for endurance fitness or reduction in weight. If the first goal of exercise is to decrease weight it is less likely to be enjoyable. We all know that when something isn't enjoyable, the chances of continuing are slim to none. There is no return on investment. Instead, direct attention to the endurance goal and accomplishing something never accomplished before. With this end in mind, attention should be taken to nutritional calorie intake, meaning everything eaten should in some way benefit the endurance goal.

A couple of tricks:

Happy memories lead to more happy memories: When eating healthy alternatives like fruits instead of donuts, make sure the time, place, and over all experience is positive. Positive memory recall will lead to enjoying those same items later. Source: Reader's Digest "7 Factors That Trick Your Taste Buds" by Amber Williams.

Don't Skip Breakfast: This really NEVER gets old. If you miss the morning meal after fasting all night "Break- FAST", it has an affect on blood sugar. When we get into the habit of eating breakfast, blood sugar is stabilized throughout the morning which will reduce the chance of unhealthy food cravings. The first meal of the day should include healthy carbohydrates, fats and protein. Examples: 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt mixed with fruit and nuts (or seeds). 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal with a piece of fruit and a boiled egg. Warning! A breakfast of a New York Style bagel (packing, very often, 400 plus calories) and orange juice will do nothing except spike blood sugar leading to a desire for more sugar a couple of hours later. Can't give up your bagel? OR, maybe you want that bagel to fuel your long run? Depending on your size, eat half a large bagel spread with 1/2 tablespoon natural peanut butter, 1/2 a banana, washed down with 6 oz 1% or 2% milk (or soy/almond/rice milk).

Exercise leads to a fitter you and when embarked on in the correct manner, your body will find it's own healthy plateau by way of weight and endurance. Toast that with a glass of chocolate milk and ENJOY!

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